The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Christy Lefteri

We tend to forget that the war in Syria is still going on, our attention drawn by the newer crises or those closer to home. This is a reminder that this conflict has never been resolved and that the world simply abandoned Syrians to fend for themselves. A story of a couple that did exactly that and more importantly a tale of what got them through the hell they had to endure.

I got this book in a bookish advent calendar from my friend. Usually, I tend to avoid books that on the cover are already labeled as bestsellers because I get a bit suspicious. Call me mean but I do not have an overly high opinion about the literary taste of the majority of the population. 

This time however I was pleasantly surprised. Over the past few years, I read several books dealing with migrations and refugees (The Optician of Lampedusa, Exit West, Migrants, migrations) and each of them uncovers another layer of the issue, but also of the suffering. Coming from a country that has produced millions of migrants as well as refugees during the war I cannot get my head around the reasons to refuse people entry. And yet even my own country mercilessly participates in such atrocities and fuels hatred for the people in need.

Our title beekeeper is Nuri, he is forced to escape Aleppo with his wife Afra, following the footsteps of his dearest friend, who managed to make his way to the UK. The book is a tale of grueling journey, but also of grief and loss. It is not only the present physical suffering, it is the pain of humiliation, irreparable loss. And the loss Nuri experiences is profound and all-encompassing, loss of family, loss of his wife, who despite being with him is lost in her own grief, loss of faith in the world and humanity, loss of identity. 

Because who are we when our life is torn from us? Who are we without our home, social structure, work, language, traditions, hobbies? What drives us forward? Is it just the survival instinct? Lefteri seems to believe it is more than that. That in the deepest corner of each of us there is this tiny piece of our truest selves and if we can stick to it it’ll give us home that will help carry us through. That said she by no means thinks this is sufficient to keep us from falling to pieces. It is just something that may help us retain humanity and the ability to slowly recover when or if conditions allow.

It is a sad book, but it is also suffused with the memories of hot days when Nuri takes care of hte bees. We can almost hear their humming when he remembers those good days, each memory like a gem he takes out and holds in his hand to admire. Each memory becomes an anchor reminding him that the suffering of now is not permanent, just as the happiness wasn’t. And maybe that is our only consolation, that things change and end both the good and more importantly the bad.

I wouldn’t say it is the most provocative book on the subject, but it strikes the balance between being too sentimental and too documentary. While Nuri’s and Afra’s story is tragic, dramatic, and cruel, we’ve all heard from the media about even worse ordeals, but it isn’t about this. I feel like Lefteri’s goal was not to document but to also explore the broader question of how is it possible to deal with such things and survive. It is the same question I was always wondering when looking at my great-grandmother and grandparents who survived WWII. How was it possible for them to move one? And Lefteri’s answer, while by no means universally right, is one of the options that may help us understand it.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

One thought on “The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Christy Lefteri

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